The Effects of “Redlining” on the Hartford Metropolitan Region

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This essay was developed in the Cities Suburbs & Schools seminar in Fall 2013 and published in March 2014 by ConnecticutHistory.org. See other Trinity student essays.

HOLC Residential Security Map of Hartford Area 1937
HOLC Residential Security Map of Hartford Area 1937. Records of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, National Archives II, College Park, Maryland – On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs

Contemporary patterns of racial isolation in the Hartford metropolitan region, as elsewhere across the country, stem from a mixture of historic and present-day policies. A number of past policies, promoted by both private and federal interests, encouraged racial segregation. Although these explicitly racist policies are no longer legal, research shows that their legacy often persists well beyond their termination. For example, historical data reveals long-term patterns of inequality that can be traced back to racist zoning codes of the past. Of the housing barriers that ethnic minorities within the US have faced in the 20th century, “redlining” is perhaps the most talked about—and for good reason. Redlining is the nickname given to the practice of rating certain neighborhoods as undesirable investment choices due to their racial and socioeconomic demographics. Banks then used these ratings when determining whether or not to authorize loan transactions for home purchases and improvements in those communities. By effectively directing capital investment away from “redlined” neighborhoods, this practice shaped the demographic patterns as well as the built environments of cities and suburbs across the US.

Formation of the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation: Rating Neighborhood Investment Risks
The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) was established through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation in 1933 as a way to combat home foreclosures during the years of the Great Depression. The HOLC created residential security maps to assess the “trend of desirability” in residential areas of Hartford and over 200 other cities during the late 1930s. In other words, the HOLC set out to evaluate the insurance risks associated with investment in order to direct the Federal Home Loan Bank’s (FHLB) underwriting criteria and to provide a detailed guide for mortgage loan investment decisions being made by the newly regulated financial institutions engaged in home mortgage lending. The major issue is that the HOLC utilized the racial and socioeconomic composition of residents—rather than relying on physical property conditions alone–as deciding criteria for determining whether they deemed a neighborhood to be a safe and stable investment for loans. For example, a 1937 HOLC appraisal report for a tract of land near downtown Hartford describes the neighborhood as a “slum area now mainly occupied by Negros.” The appraisal also identifies the residents of this area as predominately “laborers or domestics” and estimates the average annual family income to be around $1,000. This report exemplifies the role of race and class in the HOLC rating system: the neighborhood was given the lowest possible rating (Grade D).

Relationships Between Race and Redlining in the Hartford Region
The HOLC created color-coded maps that delineated four grades of housing: green being the highest rating, followed by blue and yellow, respectively, with red reserved for neighborhoods receiving the lowest ratings, hence the term “redlining.” This mapping system became an institutionalized barrier preventing equal access to property and loans as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and private lenders adopted similar policies and maps in their own underwriting manuals. Thus, the use of race-based criteria to make lending decisions became a wider spread practice. For instance, in the 1936 FHA Underwriting Manual, there are references to “inharmonious racial groups” or “incompatible racial elements” being factors in the decreased ratings assigned to certain neighborhoods. Essentially, the FHA helped perpetuate the notion that the presence of ethnic minorities in a mostly white neighborhood would adversely influence property values.

- University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC)
University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC)

When the 1937 HOLC map is compared to the 1940 map of Racial Change in the Hartford Region (below), two points become clear. First, the region was overwhelmingly white. Second, the two census tracts in Hartford with substantial black populations (tract eight and nine) were both neighborhoods redlined by the HOLC. These redlined neighborhoods were also located in slum areas. So, it is important to ask if the poor quality of the housing, rather than race, determined investment decisions. In other words, were HOLC neighborhood appraisals shaped primarily by the physical housing or by its current inhabitants? The answer is: both factors played a role; however, a comparison between two areas with similar built environments but different demographics provides evidence that a neighborhood’s HOLC rating could be negatively affected by the presence of an “inharmonious racial group.”

Through an examination of HOLC appraisal reports, it is apparent that area B-5 (North End of Hartford) and area C-9 (South End of Hartford) possessed a similar physical character in 1937. Both neighborhoods consisted primarily of two-family houses that were 15 to 20 years old, in fair-good condition, and in a comparable price range. Even the socioeconomic breakdown of the two neighborhoods was close; B-5 had an estimated annual family income of $1,800 and up, while C-9 was estimated at $1,500 and up. However, area B-5 was rated “blue,” while area C-9 received a lower “yellow” rating. This difference in rating can most likely be attributed to the racial composition of the neighborhoods. Both had a small population of Italians, but area B-5 had no black population, while area C-9 contained a black demographic, although slight (approximately 1%). One remark from the appraisal of C-9 confirms the impact of even a small African American presence: “The Negro families are confined to Roosevelt Street. Lenders suggest caution in the selection of loans.” This example demonstrates that the HOLC rating system focused as much on racial composition as it did on the physical quality of neighborhoods.

- University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC)
University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC)

The Legacy of Racialized Housing Barriers
The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which is Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, made redlining on a racial basis an illegal practice. Yet, there is evidence that redlining continued in the Hartford region as late as 1977, manifesting itself as a systematic disinvestment of urban properties by banks and insurance companies. Redlining had serious ramifications for minorities in cities like Hartford. The racialization of space through real estate practices, along with a shift in emphasis from use-value of property (its suitability to filling social needs) to market-value (its potential to be a money-making commodity), linked property value to the racial composition of a neighborhood. New data has reinforced the fall-out caused by redlining. It shows that the neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s are now the areas of lowest opportunity in Hartford. These high poverty areas may be a result of past disinvestment caused by their having been rated in the past as “undesirable” based, in part, on racial factors. In the end, it is clear that simply outlawing racist policies of the past does not necessarily fix the damage already done.

- People, Place and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in CT
People, Place and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in CT

Shaun McGann, a senior at Trinity College during the 2013-2014 academic year, is an urban studies and political science major and a resident of West Hartford.

Learn more
Websites:
“Federal HOLC ‘Redlining’ Map, Hartford Area, 1937.” University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC), 2012. Link.

“Racial Change in the Hartford Region, 1900-2010.” University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC), 2012. Link.

Documents:
“Fair Housing at Its Worst: Redlining in Hartford Connecticut, Report 9.” Education/Instruccion, February 7, 1977. Trinity College Digital Repository, Hartford. Link.

“First Annual Report of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board Covering Operations of the Federal Home Loan Banks, The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, Federal Savings and Loan Promotion Activities from the Date of Their Creation through December 31, 1933.” United States Government Printing Office, 1934. FRASER: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Link.

Reece, Jason, Samir Gambhir, Jillian Olinger, Matthew Martin, and Mark Harris. “Place, and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in Connecticut: A Report Commissioned by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, The Ohio State University, 2009. Connecticut Fair Housing Center. Link.

“Residential Security Map and Area Descriptions, Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut.” Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, 1937. Trinity College Digital Repository, Hartford. Link.

Books:
Dougherty, Jack, and colleagues. On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2011. Link.

Articles:
Greer, James. “The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation and the Development of the Residential Security Maps.” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 2 (March 2013): 275–296.

Five Minutes that Changed Connecticut: Simon Bernstein and the 1965 Connecticut Education Amendment

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This essay was developed in the Cities Suburbs & Schools seminar in Fall 2013 and published in Jan 2014 by ConnecticutHistory.org. See other Trinity student essays.

Hartford classroom, 1957
Hartford classroom, 1957 – Hartford Times Collection, Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library and Connecticut History Online

Hartford lawyer and Democratic delegate Simon Bernstein stuck out from his political peers at the 1965 Connecticut Constitutional Convention. While the Democratic and Republican chairmen of the time were entrenched in a debate over the state’s unequal political representation system, Bernstein dared to dream a little bigger. As a member of the Bloomfield Board of Education, Bernstein recognized that Connecticut was the only state that did not guarantee its citizens a constitutional right to an education. Bernstein thus decided to draft a new amendment to address this problem. After days of being ignored by his Democratic Party superiors and, finally, threatening to confront the media about his concerns, Bernstein’s request was met. Delegates at the 1965 Connecticut Constitutional Convention passed Bernstein’s amendment which guarantees free public education to every child. This set the stage for a series of prominent educational lawsuits, including Horton v. Meskill (1970), Sheff v. O’Neill (1989), and Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell (2005).

The Man Behind the Amendment
Bernstein was born on January 17, 1913, in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating from Trinity College and Harvard Law School, he began his political career in Hartford as a lawyer and Democratic alderman. During his time in Hartford, Bernstein served on the city’s Finance Committee and also actively participated in the 1940′s Zionist movement, a political effort that sought to encourage local lawmakers to support Israel’s fight for its own state. In 1950, Bernstein moved to Bloomfield and was elected to the Bloomfield Board of Education.


Simon Bernstein’s 2011 interview with the Cities Suburbs and Schools Project

In all of his political efforts, Bernstein proved he was not afraid to confront difficult issues that others were hesitant to address. For example, in 1947, Bernstein took on a legal case involving a racially restrictive covenant, a term used to describe real estate agreements that prohibit people of a specific race from occupying a property. This covenant, in particular, limited a property sale in the West Hartford area to “non-Semitic persons of the Caucasian race.” The Hartford Courantpublished an article about Bernstein on March 28, 1947, which wrote that Bernstein felt the covenant’s racially specific language was “against public policy.” Bernstein eventually managed to get this phrasing erased from the original property agreement, making him the first person in Connecticut to successfully address a legal case of this kind.

The Creation and Impact of the Education Amendment
One reason why Bernstein’s peers at the 1965 Connecticut Constitutional Convention attempted to stifle his enthusiasm for including an education amendment was that they were focused on only one task: revising the state’s system of political representation. Connecticut’s representation system needed to be fixed as a consequence of the 1964 United States Supreme Court ruling in Reynolds v. Sims. The Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause required state legislatures to apportion representatives based on each district’s population to ensure that all citizens are equally represented. This “one man, one vote” law thus made Connecticut’s system—two representatives for every district regardless of population—unconstitutional.

Because the sole purpose of the Convention was to align Connecticut’s representation system with Reynolds v. Sims, John Bailey, the influential Democratic chairman, had little interest in seeing any proposals regarding schools. However, this did not stop Bernstein from voicing his concerns about Connecticut’s lack of a constitutional guarantee to education: “I was enough of a history student of law, a lawyer, to know that once a convention is called for the state or national, nothing is irrelevant,” Bernstein stated in an interview. Rather than accept the legislature’s preplanned agenda, Bernstein chose to challenge his political superiors.

In order to gain the legislature’s attention, Bernstein repeatedly asked Bailey to consider his proposal and also threatened to discuss his frustration with the media. In the end, it was this threat that worked. Bailey granted Bernstein a meager 5 minutes to draft a proposal in an effort to quickly return to the discussion on political representation. Bernstein’s amendment, which he scribbled onto a scrap of paper in order to make his 5-minute deadline, is general because Bernstein believed the language of the Constitution should reflect overall principles and ideas. It states that, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The general assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.”

1965 Education Amendment draft

Bernstein was given only minutes to draft his proposal for what is known today as the 1965 Education Amendment. The above image is a facsimile of the document. The actual draft of the Article is held at the Connecticut State Library.

Although the world “equal” is not explicitly written in the amendment, its inference has been used as a foundation for nationally recognized educational inequality lawsuits such as Horton v. Meskill (1970), Sheff v. O’Neill (1989), and Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell (2005). At the time of Horton v. Meskill, Connecticut supplied school districts with $250 per child, forcing towns to rely heavily on local property taxes for additional funding. The Horton plaintiffs used Bernstein’s amendment to argue that this system was unconstitutional because it meant educational quality varied considerably from poorer to wealthier towns. Sheff v. O’Neill used Bernstein’s amendment to prove that the extreme racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of the Hartford school district left its schoolchildren, and suburban schoolchildren, with an insufficient education that the state was required to remedy. The CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit used the 1965 Educational Amendment to argue that Connecticut’s system for funding public schools was not only inadequate but also disproportionately harmed minority schoolchildren by diminishing their ability to participate in the democratic process, thrive in college, and reap the monetary rewards of intellectual success.

After his years as a lawyer, Bernstein served as a Connecticut Superior Court Judge for 27 years. He passed away on May 27, 2013, at his home in Sarasota, Florida, at the age of 100. His contribution to Connecticut lives on through the 1965 education amendment that continues to serve as a foundation for educational inequality lawsuits throughout the state.

Elaina Rollins, a sophomore at Trinity College in Hartford during the 2013-2014 academic year, is an Educational Studies major and a resident of Columbus, Ohio.

learn more
Websites
“CCJEF V. Rell Overview.” Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, 2013.Link.

Video
Oral History Collection A-Z: Simon Bernstein. Interview by Jack Zaiman. Video, December 22, 1971. Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford. Link.

Bernstein, Simon. Oral History Interview on Connecticut Civil Rights (with video) – Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project. Interview by Katie Campbell. Pdf file, video, jpeg, August 1, 2011. Trinity College Digital Repository, Hartford. Link.

Documents
“PDF: CCJEF (Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding) V. Rell.” The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, n.d. Link.

Books
Collier, Christopher. Connecticut’s Public Schools: A History, 1650-2000. Orange, CT: Clearwater Press, 2009.

Dougherty, Jack, and colleagues. On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2011. Link.

Eaton, Susan E. The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.

Articles
“Bernstein Seeks End of Restrictive Clauses.” The Hartford Courant. March 28, 1947, sec. ProQuest – Hartford Courant Historical Newspaper database – Available through iCONN.org. Link.

“Simon Bernstein.” The New Haven Register. May 30, 2013.

The Debate Over Who Could Occupy World War II Public Housing in West Hartford

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This essay was developed in the Cities Suburbs & Schools seminar in Fall 2013 and published in Jan 2014 by ConnecticutHistory.org. See other Trinity student essays.

Oakwood Acres temporary housing
Oakwood Acres temporary housing, West Hartford, 1954. This photo was taken a decade after the debate – Hartford Times Collection, Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library and Connecticut History Online

In 1943, a dispute erupted between West Hartford residents and federal housing officials over whether or not African Americans should be allowed to live in the World War II public housing tract called Oakwood Acres. During this period, public housing tracts were created to shelter the many war workers and their families drawn to the Hartford area by the availability of defense-related jobs. The United States government funded these developments; therefore, local housing officials needed to abide by federal laws regarding occupancy. Federal Housing authorities eventually did require West Hartford to admit African Americans; however, town residents and leaders prevailed by specifying residency criteria in such a way as to maintain the demographic makeup of their virtually all-white community. Racist actions such as these, even when they occurred decades ago, have been factors in shaping the present-day demographics of West Hartford and other towns in the state.

Headline from the December 16, 1943 Metropolitan News
Headline from the December 16, 1943 Metropolitan News (West Hartford)

War Industry Jobs Create Demand for Housing
The advent of World War II brought significant changes to a country that had been in the grip of a deep financial depression. Across the nation, as people moved into cities looking for jobs in wartime defense industries, demand for housing soared. Often, that demand far exceeded the availability of properties to purchase or even rent. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States Congress established the United States Housing Authority (USHA) and authorized it to build public housing units with the goal of providing adequate living quarters for war workers.

An influx of war laborers, both white and African American, and their families came to the greater Hartford area in the 1940s. They worked in defense factories, such as the Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool plant and the newer Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. As a result, housing options were limited in the Hartford area. By August of 1943, 8,000 new housing units had been developed in Hartford and New Britain to accommodate the growing population. These apartment-style homes were built under the Hartford Housing Association (HHA) and paid for with federal funding from the USHA.

According to a 1943 Hartford Courant report, “Connecticut has about half of all the government war housing constructed in New England. Half of the government housing in this state has been put up in the Hartford-New Britain area….” With these statistics, one might think that workers’ need for housing in Greater Hartford had been met. However, families and single African American war workers found it more difficult to procure homes. The Courant noted that “400 housing units for white in-migrant families” were being constructed and, in “the case of Negroes,” it was thought that “temporary dormitories” might be built if additional government grants could be obtained. Berkley Cox, chairman of the HHA called this situation “satisfactory.”

The Fight to Keep African Americans Out of Oakwood Acres
One unit developed under the HHA was the Oakwood Acres Housing Tract. Located on Oakwood Avenue in West Hartford, it spanned the area between St. Charles Street and Seymour Avenue. Contemporary descriptions present the Oakwood Acres’ living spaces as new, simplistic, and affordable. In 1943, only 14 out of the 300 apartments in the building were occupied at a time when many African Americans either had no place to live or could only find substandard accommodations. The federal government planned to use the complex to provide housing for these workers and their families.

Comparison of the location of Oakwood Acres Housing Tract in 1951 vs 2013
Comparison of the location of Oakwood Acres Housing Tract in 1951 vs 2013 – Neighborhood Change in Connecticut, 1934 to Present – University of Connecticut Libraries, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC)

Because the government funded Oakwood Acres, the unit needed to abide by federal law, which stated that officials could not legally reject African Americans applying for housing. West Hartford homeowners, living near Oakwood Acres, were quoted in a September 1943 issue of the Metropolitan News as being “alarmed” and “horrified” at the idea of “Negroes” living in their neighborhood. One woman said she and her family would move out the day after any African Americans moved in. The paper itself described the situation in harsh, racist language, calling it an “infiltration,” and reported the prevailing sentiment among community homeowners as being: “We don’t want them here.” The consensus among West Hartford realtors and homeowners, the newspaper reported, was that real estate values would show “an immediate and sharp” drop if “Negroes in any considerable number moved into town.”

Furiously, homeowners wrote to the HHA and West Hartford Housing Authority (WHHA) asking if African Americans would indeed be admitted to Oakwood Acres. When the Hartford Courant posed the question to WHHA chairman Richard F. Jones, he equivocated, saying, “I won’t say we are and I won’t say we’re not going to admit Negroes…. At the present time that is a topic we’d rather not publicize too much.” This prompted West Hartford residents to send petitions to their senators, Francis Maloney and John A Danaher, and congressman, William Miller. Miller responded that he would look into the issue.

The United States Housing Authority responded with an ultimatum. They stated that it was unlawful to exclude occupants from Oakwood Acres based on race. Local housing officials were advised that unless the race restrictions were lifted, the federal government would step in. Under this decision, African Americans would be admitted if they applied for a unit. This angered many West Hartford homeowners, prompting the town’s housing officials to find a loophole. They decided to accept applications only from “Negroes with essential West Hartford industry jobs.” Officials made this ruling knowing that, at the time, only six African American families fit this criterion—and they had not expressed interest in living in Oakwood Acres. Ultimately, with this restrictive technicality in place, no African American war workers moved into the housing tract. The white West Hartford housing officials and their supporters had trumped the federal government. They found a way to circumvent federal guidelines and discourage African Americans from living in publicly-funded housing with the town’s borders.

Aftermath
In 1956, Oakwood Acres was demolished. It had become dilapidated and the people of West Hartford feared it made their neighborhood look like a “slum.” By destroying the unit, West Hartford also erased the physical remnants of this racist chapter in the town’s housing history. Today, West Hartford remains a predominately white community. One can argue that its demographics have been shaped, in part, by discriminatory housing practices of which the standoff over Oakwood Acres is but one example.

Emily Meehan, a sophomore at Trinity College during the 2013-2014 academic year, is an Educational Studies major and a resident of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Learn more

Books:
Dougherty, Jack, and colleagues. On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2011. Link.

Szylvian, Kristin M. “The Federal Housing Program During World War II.” In From Tenements to the Taylor Homes: In Search of an Urban Housing Policy in Twentieth-Century America. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Articles:
“1877 Worker Visits New Tool Plant.” Hartford Courant. August 14, 1943, sec. ProQuest – Hartford Courant Historical Newspaper database – Available through iCONN.org. Link.

“Housing Official Noncommittal on Racial Question.” Hartford Courant. October 21, 1943, sec. ProQuest – Hartford Courant Historical Newspaper database – Available through iCONN.org. Link.

“Housing Reaches 8000 Mark in City and New Britain.” Hartford Courant. August 14, 1943, sec. ProQuest – Hartford Courant Historical Newspaper database – Available through iCONN.org. Link.